When Nathan and Chet arrived in their suits at the Bishop’s Storehouse the next morning, they were directed to a conference room, where dozens of other maintenance missionaries were gathered. Nathan hadn’t seen some of them since their first day of training together. There were several other men he’d never seen before, but he sensed they were also maintenance missionaries.
Elder Miller was at the front of the room, and he stood silently as numerous containers holding manila envelopes were placed on tables beside him. Once the tables were filled, he grabbed a microphone and faced the group.
“Today we shift gears,” Elder Miller said excitedly. “The prophet received a revelation yesterday that the time has come to distribute the letters. You’ll each be assigned to deliver letters to bishops in approximately three stakes somewhere along the Wasatch Front. You have two days to get these into their hands. It is absolutely essential that the bishop or one of his counselors receive the envelope and reads the message printed on the front. When you complete your task, return to this room and report directly to me.”
“Are we allowed to know what the letter says?” one of the missionaries asked.
Elder Miller pondered the question for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, I feel that is fair. Of course, you’re all bound to secrecy until the letters are read on Sunday in each ward.”
He took a manila envelope from a table next to him and opened it. He said, “So you know, each letter is signed by the corresponding area presidency, and is tailored to the needs of that area.”
He put on a pair of glasses and read:
“To the LDS Church members in the Utah South Area:
“In recent General Conference addresses and in several Ensign magazine articles, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have given repeated warnings to both the nation and to the members of the Church. They have spoken of the need for spiritual and temporal preparedness in anticipation of upcoming events that will transpire if the commandments of God are ignored. These prophetic warnings have largely gone unheeded, and the Lord will soon fulfill his promises as outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants.
“Therefore, under the direction of the First Presidency, we issue an invitation of gathering to you. The Church has prepared gathering places along the Wasatch Front where members of the Church can be shielded from any turmoil that may soon come upon our nation. Your local leaders have been given specific instructions on where your particular stake has been assigned to gather.
“The Utah South Area Presidency”
Elder Miller put the letter back in the envelope and pulled out another sheet. “The bishops also will receive this list of instructions. They are told to read the letter at the start of Sacrament Meeting this coming Sunday, and then tell the members that a semi-trailer will be brought to their building that afternoon for families to bring their clothing and food storage. Then he’ll tell them that the buses will be leaving for their camp that evening.”
Chet raised his hand. “So the ward members only have a few hours to prepare? Why not give them a couple of days?”
Nathan knew Chet was purposely playing the devil’s advocate, but Elder Miller’s eyes narrowed.
“The Saints have been told specifically and repeatedly over the past few months to prepare, especially a few weeks ago at General Conference,” he said. “Now comes the true test. Who will be ready for the Bridegroom?”
The reference to the Parable of the Ten Virgins was clear to everyone, and Chet nodded. “You’re right,” he said. “Either they’re ready by now or they’re not.”
Elder Miller’s stern look softened slightly. “If families choose not to leave their homes on Sunday, are they lost forever? No. But as we mentioned at the start of your assignment, the Saints who respond to the prophet’s invitation will be taken to the best camps with the most supplies, safely tucked away from civilization. They’ll be greatly blessed for their immediate obedience. Others might decide to come in a few days or weeks, but their opportunities will be greatly limited both temporally and spiritually compared to if they had obeyed promptly. As we’ve told you before, this is part of the Lord’s larger plan to see who is truly faithful, and who is living on borrowed light each Sunday.”
Elder Miller paused to collect his thoughts. “That reminds me of what President Ezra Taft Benson once said. It hit me so hard that I memorized it. He said, ‘There is a real sifting going on in the Church, and it is going to become more pronounced with the passing of time. It will sift the wheat from the tares, because we face some difficult days, the like of which we have never experienced in our lives. And those days are going to require faith and testimony and family unity, the like of which we have never had.’’’
The room was silent before he added, “Brethren, those days have arrived.”
After a few more instructions, each maintenance missionary was given a stack of manila envelopes. Nathan’s envelopes were all addressed to bishops in Spanish Fork, Utah. He was given a map of that city along with a clipboard and a pen where the recipient needed to sign that he had received the letter.
Nathan noticed each envelope had the official logo of the Church in the upper lefthand corner, and along the bottom of the envelope was printed: “Urgent material that must be read by Friday, but do not open until you are in your office in the presence of your bishopric counselors.”
“Why would they put that on there?” Nathan asked Chet, who was now standing near him.
“I think it’s so there will be at least three witnesses that the letter was read. It’s hard to believe, but there are some bishops who might choose to disregard the letter if it isn’t first read in the presence of others.”
“Can you fathom that?” Nathan asked. “If a bishop refused to read this to his congregation, he’d be potentially dooming his whole ward.”
“Exactly. That’s why there’s so many double-checks.”
Nathan was assigned a small Church-owned car, and it felt strange to be behind the wheel of this smaller car after so many weeks driving his truck. He zoomed down the freeway into southern Utah County and had to make a conscious effort to avoid speeding.
He arrived in Spanish Fork by early afternoon and had little trouble locating the bishops’ houses, but only a few were home from work yet. Their wives or children offered to sign for them, but Nathan assured them that the bishop himself needed to receive it. He was usually able to arrange a time to return to the house, and once evening arrived, he made much better progress at getting the envelopes delivered.
In other cases, the bishop’s family member said, “He’s down at the church,” and Nathan soon realized he could catch two or three bishops in one stop there. The bishops all seemed curious about the envelope and asked him why it was hand-delivered, but all he could do was point to the sentence printed on the front of the envelope.
By 9:30 p.m., he had delivered his last envelope and began driving back to Salt Lake. He arrived at the distribution center at 11 p.m., but he followed Elder Miller’s instructions and went to the conference room. He was surprised to see Elder Miller still there, talking to other missionaries.
“Hi Nathan,” Elder Miller said as he took the clipboard from him. “How did it go?”
“I delivered every one of them. Three bishops were out of town, but in each case I delivered the letter to one of the counselors.”
“Excellent,” Elder Miller said. “We’ll have some of our senior missionaries call each person on this list on Saturday to make sure they’ve met as a bishopric and that they understand the letter.”
“That’s a good idea,” Nathan said. “I’m sure they’ll have plenty of questions.”
Elder Miller patted him on the back. “Well done, my young friend. You’ve earned a good night’s sleep.”
“Thank you,” Nathan said with a weary smile. “Do you think our pace will slow down soon?”
Elder Miller smiled back. “Only in your dreams. Sleep tight.”